I’ve never written a political post. Ever. I’m terrified of conflict, and there is never a more contentious season than the peak of an election year. In my experience, political arguments are almost always stalemates, especially as the campaign for each candidate ramps up. No side convinces the other. There are no converts. And actually, that doesn’t surprise me or annoy me, really. Human reason has serious limits, and we reach or realize those limits every election year. Calls for reasonable, rational discussion are loud, but voices crying out in support of one candidate or another are louder.
I don’t want to take some apolitical high road, either. Well, I’d like to, but that’s pompous and naive. Still, it’s probably closest to how I act. I stay silent in most political discussions, I’ve only voted once, I shake my smug head at Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags. I look disapprovingly at one side pointing a finger at the other, and I scoff at America’s broken two-party system (like I know anything about it).
But here’s the thing: in all reality, I’m the one out of touch. I stand to the side and deflect; I don’t take a stand. I hesitate to make decisions on a host of issues, claiming that I’m getting all the details, so I can’t be rushed into a position. And still, even as I write this, a large part of me feels vindicated. I do feel cynical toward the political system. I am disgusted by people spouting hate at one another. I am sick of all the shouting. I do have a headache. It is all bread and circuses, to the tee: superficial, clandestine, silly, stupid, nonsense, hot air. This election season has only shoved me further inside my shell.
There’s a book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes, and it often gets the shaft. Maybe rightly so. If you ask a biblical scholar, they’ll probably tell you that though it’s canonical, it shouldn’t be normative or highlighted, meaning that if you are reading the Bible for the first time, don’t start with Ecclesiastes. But then there’s this other branch of Bible-readers who LOVE Ecclesiastes, because it tastes like the real world. It’s cynical to a fault, grumpy, and sounds like it was written by someone without a heart. For these readers, there’s something reassuring and comforting about the way Ecclesiastes nails the crushing weight of our daily lives; that the Word of God contains some hopelessness means that it is truly alive.
I’ve read Ecclesiastes both ways, at different points of my life. I’ve winced, but I’ve also cried (like, heaving and sobbing type crying) as I’ve moved through its twelve chapters. But now, in the midst of this election cycle, I read it in a new way. I’m tempted to rip it out of my Bible and carry it around as my new personal canon.“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’”
But everything is not meaningless. I know that. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that. You know that. It’s easy to yell everything is meaningless and then give up. I want to do that. Often, I do that. And yet, I remember that scene in Lord of the Rings, when the Ents have decided they won’t intervene in the ongoing war and Merry screams at them: “But you’re part of this world, aren’t you!?”
So I’ll keep eating the bread and going to the circuses. I’ll keep reading Ecclesiastes. I’ll probably keep playing it safe, but I will keep. And if you’re reading this and you think, “Wow that’s a cheesy way to end an essay,” I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing this for me.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.